By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Any well-rounded cross training program should include high-intensity cardiovascular work, strength training, stretching, and agility work. Athletes who are in training put a lot of strain on their bodies, which pushes them to the limits each and every day. If they neglect to stretch the muscles after working out, they run the risk of joint or muscle injuries. Yoga can provide that necessary balance within a cross training program. It can also improve athletes' strength, flexibility, coordination, stamina, lung capacity, and more.
Know Your Athlete
Young athletes can train for a variety of sports, from tennis to football. As they become increasingly involved in a specific training program, very often the muscles required for their specific sport become strong. Runners often have tight hamstrings, cyclists build up their quadriceps, and tennis and golf players often favor the arm they play with. This results in a body that is out of balance, which puts the athlete at risk for injuries and strains. Yoga instructors should be aware of the athlete's individual discipline, and then work the areas that are necessary to balance out the body.
Some athletes practice Yoga to rehabilitate after an injury. In this situation, they must take it slowly and gently, never pushing too far to irritate the injury or strain. Yoga instructors should ensure the athlete understands that a physical practice can be an effective way to heal, but it is not a miracle cure. It will take time, patience, effort, and practice to help the injury heal.
Athletes are often used to rigorous workouts, where competition is inherent. You want to hold the interest of the athlete by structuring the class in a way that allows them to feel successful, strong, and capable. Begin with a few warm-up poses, and then progress to a sun salutation, warrior poses, or other standing poses that will ready the entire body for more flexibility work. Continue with a series of poses that target the hips and hamstrings, as many athletes feel tightness in these areas.
Encourage Mental Focus
A competitive nature often takes precedence when athletes engage in any type of activity. Yoga is a great opportunity to encourage athletes to forgo competition for inner reflection and mental focus. Yoga instructors can teach athletes to focus within as opposed to competing with others during a class. Athletes can also use Yoga time to visualize improved movement in specialized ways, executing particular plays, or achieving individual goals.
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